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Helping Your Kids With School Stress

Posted Oct 06 2009 10:00pm


School can be a place of stress, even for the little ones who seem excited about the first day of school. This is because school has become a setting where all kinds of issues come into play: Am I smart enough? Do kids like me? Does the teacher like me? Why am I being singled out?

What is School Stress?

A child in kindergarten may be anxious about wetting herself in school. A first grader may fear riding the bus and a third grader may have nightmares about the teacher calling home.

These are all genuine fears that can manifest in different ways like irritability, sleep problems, headaches, stomach aches, moodiness, depression, even bed wetting.

How Can You Help?

Because stress is a reality of life, it is necessary that you allow your child to see it as an opportunity for growth, for developing “life” muscles. Help your child understand that stress should not be avoided; stress can teach him new things about herself because stress can be managed. Allow your child to understand the distinction between avoiding stress and managing stress.

Give your child opportunities to learn what managing stress means.

1. Encourage your child to practice deep breathing when she feels overwhelmed. Deep breathing produces a relaxed state that can alter her perception of the stressful event.

2. Exercise and exercise. A great deal of research shows a direct correlation between exercise and mood. Giving your child the opportunity for vigorous physical activity like running, basketball or tennis can deliver neurochemical changes in the brain that suppress anxiety and depression.

3. Feed your child Brain Food. Ample evidence shows that omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for emotional and mental stability. Studies indicate that children with mood disorders and behavior problems often have an unbalanced level of amino acids and omega-3 fats. Salmon, blueberries and nuts are the best sources of omega-3.

4. Spend fun time with your child as often as possible. A half hour of sharing jokes or looking at funny cartoons and videos is the best antidote for stress.

5. Show your child how to manage time wisely. If tests are a source of concern, they can be managed with advance preparation. Show your child how studying for tests days in advance can silence the anxious beast. Procrastination, on the other hand, feeds the beast.

6. Help your child develop a proper sleep routine that includes the following – brushing teeth, reading in bed, prayers and lights out. A consistent and steady bedtime ritual enables the body to relax before bed.

7. Be positive and encouraging at all times. Remarks like “I told you so” can be self-defeating. Research shows that emphasizing the positive and desired behaviors encourages the brain changes that reinforce these behaviors. By the same token, repeated references to negative behavior will reinforce exactly what you do not want.

Above all, remember that school stress is both an opportunity for learning about handling stress in the real world and an opportunity for you and your child to connect with each other.

Bianca Tora is a writer interested in the relationship between lifestyle and the brain, specifically the area of emotional regulation and control. She has published a book on anger management for children. Visit her at

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